Monday, July 27, 2009

What Will We Do About Mom?

My family is still struggling with The Mom Question. As in, when do we force my mother out of the home she's lived in for more than forty-five years?

My three brothers are united in not wanting to move her until it is absolutely necessary. The dog and I think she passed that point sometime last year, but unfortunately we're outnumbered. So we are doing all kinds of workarounds to make sure she can stay in her home as long as possible.

I call her every morning, and my middle brother calls her every evening. My youngest brother stops by to see her on his way to work very morning. My oldest brother comes up once a week to take her out wherever she wants to go. In the meantime, the dog keeps her on schedule. He wakes her up, leads her to the kitchen when it's time to eat and to the bedroom when it's time to go to bed at night.

It's not perfect, but since she won't move in with me or allow a stranger into her house, it's the best we can do. We've disabled the stove and oven so she only cooks in the microwave.

She is aware that she is losing her memory, and it scares her. We've tried different approaches, but the one that seems to work best is when we tell her she's always been "a little bit off" so why worry about it at this late date? That invariably makes her laugh and relax.

Mom is Irish, and she taught us that humor is the best defense when things go wrong.

Saturday evening my youngest brother called. He asked if I would do him a favor. I said, "Sure" and grabbed a pencil to take instructions.

He said, "It's seven o'clock now. I'm outside Pete's Bar & Grill. Would you please wait an hour and then call a cab. Tell the dispatcher to instruct the driver to go into the bar and look for the man who is the most sh*t-faced drunk. That will be me. Ask him to take me home."

I put my pencil down and said, "Been visiting Mom again, hmmm?"

He: "Took her shopping for shoes. Dear God, what a disaster. It took hours. We finally bought a pair, and I got her into the car to head home. She's sitting there with the new shoebox in her lap, and she says to me, 'It's a shame we couldn't find a pair of shoes. When can we go shopping again'?"

I started to laugh. "Okay, take Sunday off. I'll call her every few hours during the day so you can have a break."

I called Mom in the morning at 9:00, around noon and again Sunday afternoon. At 3:00 PM, she was in a furious tizzy because she couldn't find the scissors in order to cut a piece of masking tape.

Scissors are an ongoing problem. We have bought her no fewer than a dozen pairs in the last few months. They just keep disappearing. No one knows where they go.

I talked her through using a knife to make a small cut in the tape and then ripping it across. Midway through the operation, she asked me, "Why can't I just use the scissors?"

I responded, "Because you can't find the scissors."

She said, "There's two of them right here. An orange pair and a blue pair."

Me: "Mom, you just spent ten minutes yelling at me because you couldn't find the scissors."

She: "Oh, you always exaggerate."

Me: {starting to laugh} "You're trying to make me as crazy as you are, aren't you, old woman?"

She: {laughing, too} "Well, that's pretty darn crazy." {odd noise} "Uh-oh."

Me: "What's wrong?"

She: "The phone just fell off the wall."

Me: "What do you mean; the phone just fell off the wall?"

She: "Well, I was in the living room, and it fell off."

Me: "I thought you were on the cordless."

She: "No, I was on the kitchen phone."

Me: {in disbelief} "You had the phone stretched all the way through the dining room to the living room?"

She: "Mmmm, yes. What do I do now?"

Me: "Good luck to you with that. I'll talk to you soon."

She: "Don't you DARE hang up on me. What do I do?"

We spent the next forty-five minutes as follows:

1) Me trying to talk her through snapping the phone back into place on the wall. No success.

2) Me trying to talk her through unplugging the phone from the wall so she could just use the cordless until my brother gets there in the morning. No success.

3) Me trying to talk her through depressing the receiver and taping it down with the piece of masking tape she'd already cut (prescient, wasn't she?) so she could use the other phone until my brother gets there in the morning. No success.

4) Me trying to convince her she could get by until morning without a phone. Absolutely no success.

5) Me just trying to get the hell off the damn phone. A total failure.

Through most of the conversation, we were both laughing so hard we couldn't speak. I had tears running down my face, and she was coughing, trying to catch her breath after laughing herself hoarse.

I know it won't always be this way. Her rages are growing in intensity and duration. But I'm grateful for the laughter the Lord gave us yesterday.


Kristen howe said...

HI Maya. Long time no see. This is a good article about helping your mom move out of her home she's known and into a new one. Good job here. Feel free to visit mine.

Aimless Writer said...

Would that we should live long enough to be a problem for our children.
I always tell my kids I can't wait till they have to take care of me for a change. They say they've already picked out my nursing home. I tell them I'll burn it down like Sofia did on the Golden Girls.
Can you tell your mom she has two choices? Either get help in or move in with someone else?

Annette Lyon said...

For what it's worth, you're right, and your brothers are wrong--but way to step up. I look at my parents aging, and it worries me. Dad's looking so much like his mother did years ago. They're still in good health . . . so far. But that can't last forever. Keep us informed.

Marian said...

Even though your family doesn't agree, you're all holding together and doing the best you can take to take of your mother.

I had a coworker whose father-in-law ended up in a retirement/nursing home when his memory started lapsing. He escaped from it three times and was picked up by the police each time, trying to make his way home.

EODgirl said...

I’m not a frequent reader of your blog, but I feel like I came to here today for a reason. My mom has early-onset Alzheimer’s. She is still in her 50s. She lived with my husband and me for a few years before she went to a nursing home where she now lives.

Your brothers are wrong. It is generally very hard for sons to accept that their mother is ill and there is nothing they can do about it. It’s also really common for one child to be the one who does the lion’s share of what needs to be done.

You need to start looking for solutions NOW! Trust me, the time to look for solutions is not when you are in crisis or after something has happened that forces change. If you want to hire someone, the best time to do it is when she is still somewhat “with it.” That way, she can get used to the routine of someone stopping by to see her daily. She may even come to enjoy having the company, and that person can report any changes he/she sees. When a person has dementia, it can be difficult to spot changes in short visits that are apparent to someone who sees her every day.

I could go on and on and on, but I’m depressing myself.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thank you all for the kind comments.

Yes, I agree. I'm the one who worries most about my brothers' decision. However, someone I love asked me if Mom had cancer instead of Alzheimer's, would I force chemo on her against her will?

My answer was no.

He said, "Then why are you wanting to force her to leave her home?"

Mom's paranoia will not allow her to permit anyone outside of us inside the house. We've tried multiple times.

So it's a waiting game.

Thanks to everyone for the kind thoughts.

EODgirl said...

I understand your feelings and respect them, and I hope everything works out for you. I will say that Alz. is not like cancer. It is more like mental illness in the way it affects the judgment, and in many instances, treatment has to be forced on the mentally ill for their own protection.

However, it sounds like your mom doesn't have a wandering problem like mine did, so maybe things will go better for you all. Continue to enjoy her like you have. That's the most important thing kids can do when their parents have Alz.

Good luck to you all.

Maya Reynolds said...

EOD: Thanks again for all the kind wishes and thoughts. I appreciate you more than I can say.

Glynis said...

Oh I understand this post so well. Dad has Alzhiemer's. We have agreed it will be time for a home soon as my mum has a rare lung disease, and can only do so much now & I live in Cyprus. It is safer for them both as he is now aggressive at times.
I hope all works well for your mum.